That Dastardly Infectious Weed

caladrylIs poison ivy a weed? It surely is unwanted and definitely not for smoking.

Thank goodness for air-conditioning. The summer that never quit lingers well into September.

A mini-heat wave prevails in the Philly region, although today we’re at the threshold of another sweat-inducing blast of hellfire, which will toast us until the beginning of next week.

The air-conditioner in my flat had quit at the pinnacle of the heat wave in July.

A repairman fixed it fortunately for me, finding a broken electrical connection to the condenser, ending my worrying about doing without it for an extended period while awaiting a replacement to be installed.

During the couple of days that I had to rely on electric fans pointed directly at me, which made the apartment feel like a convection oven, hardly any relief persisted, leaving my body covered with a constant sheen of perspiration, looking like Flag Boy from the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics, but worse.

The only instant reprieve, aside from standing in a cold shower, sitting in Pizza Hut, doing some shopping at the indoor mall or hanging in the neighborhood pub, was driving the Cooper with the air-conditioner and stereo set on full-tilt boogie.

At least the AC in the car worked. It better have after being replaced during the peak of a past heat wave, two summers ago.

Trying to sleep in the ridiculously hot flat was the worst. The floor fan became a table fan situated right on the bed stand. Even with the selector aimed at “turbo-blast,” I tossed and turned all night, almost like sleeping with one eye open in a hurricane.

The pounding, hot air allotted enough evaporation to remove the sweat from my steaming carcass and bed sheets. Anything is better than sleeping in a puddle of perspiration.

As if adding insult to injury, I’ve been dealing with poison ivy. The recent bout started at the last full moon, when I tromped about in the darkness after photographing the celestial orb from the Delaware Riverbed at low tide:

The rash took almost a week to clear up, but the other day I rambled through some more, like a fool, knowing full well the dastardly infectious weed was everywhere; however, this time I had worn socks and boots instead of sandals over my bare feet.

Every bit of restraint for not allowing the plant to touch any exposed skin guided me through that evil patch while I chased butterflies with my camera. Yet, all was in vain, except for a few good shots. Caladryl and benadryl are now my two best friends again.

On the top portion of my left hand between the knuckles of the index and middle fingers is one spot that’s driving me crazy. The other is behind my right arm above the elbow.

My allergic reactions to the poisonous plant run in seven-year cycles, sort of like the seven-year itch. During the off years, I could wallow in it. Conversely, while in the on position, just by standing within sight of the derelict vine causes immediate skin irritation.

This must be like a magnetic attraction that shifts polarity periodically. I’ve caught the dreaded affliction three times since spring, more than in years previously while maintaining the same outdoor activity. This must be the start of the vulnerability cycle.

It’s a form of insane torture by sweet Mother Nature, not being able to scratch that itch for instant gratification before the tiny red dots morph into a huge allergic eruption that spreads all over like wildfire.

While up in Canada one summer as young teens, staying at my dad’s newly acquired Mr. Fix-it’s bungalow, a couple of my friends and I helped my father with the initial chore of installing a septic tank and indoor plumbing.

The rustic three-room cabin came with an old-style, “prime it before you use it” hand pump for potable water, attached to the top of a dilapidated wooden counter and cabinets, next to a stained, ratty-looking porcelain sink. The modern convenience of a water closet didn’t even exist.

We were told beforehand an outhouse was located somewhere on the three-acre property. The elusive privy wasn’t found until the last day of our four-day stay, before returning to Hackensack, NJ.

The first order of business was to dig a trench for a septic system, and installing the tank. Pop had rented a backhoe, so the work wasn’t too backbreaking. Us boys had fun with operating the bucket loader alternately, removing shovelfuls of dirt.

After the hole was round and deep enough, Dad chained up the tank, slung it on the bucket and hydraulic arm of the backhoe, lowering the cloacal sphere, placing it snugly like the proverbial bug in a rug. Very cool to have watched and learned from his never-ending ingenuity.

My father’s brother came over to help with the plumbing and putting in the loo, a sink and tub in the bathroom, new kitchen cabinets and a stainless-steel sink with faucets. Next in line was installing a water pump to the existing well, a hot-water heater placed in a nearby closet, and upgrading the electrical wiring to accommodate the new power load.

Our responsibility was to fill in the cesspool’s crater when all the connections were tightened, tested, and operating as they should. We took turns running the bucket loader to accomplish the task.

Pop was a licensed electrician, still affiliated with the union hall in Montréal. Uncle Gaston was a union carpenter and general contractor. Both had plumbing experience as well, so the essential labor, credentials and building permits weren’t any hassle to produce between both of them for the final inspection, even if the premises were out in the heart of the county.

Overnights, we youngsters camped out under the stars with just our sleeping bags, bug spray and protective mosquito nets, watching the August Perseids, or meteor showers, dozing off after having counted seemingly hundreds of shooting stars ahead of time.

The summer bungalow was out in the middle of nowhere. Farms and flat pastureland took up the countryside for as far as the eye could see in all directions. Light pollution wasn’t a factor, besides leaving the porch light on. Our stargazing wasn’t hampered at all.  It was as if we had taken off in a Mercury capsule and were drifting outward in space.

The long-weekend getaway was pretty much party time for me and the boys. We helped when we could with the grunt work, but were otherwise left to our own devises during the excursion.

The outhouse was buried in the barn under piles of dust, debris and rusted farm equipment. Pushing off cleaning the musty, rickety, old edifice to the very last minute forced us to finally discover where we could have been taking care of business all along, instead of doing it like bears in the woods.

That summer I experienced the worst case of poison ivy ever thus far: on my butt and nether regions from squatting in it. Sorry for too much information. No I’m not!

So now, to help keep me from scratching that infernal itch, I think of Pop’s cabin, and the consequences thereof, using lots of calamine lotion and antihistamines, the latter contributing to this lengthy essay.

Happy end of summer. Hope the remainder of the season treats you well. Thanks for your continued support.




About Mike Slickster

As an early retiree with an honorary doctorate degree from the proverbial "School of Hard Knocks," this upcoming author with a lot of free time on his hands utilizes his expansive repertoire for humorous yet tragic, wildly creative writing that contains years of imaginative fantasy, pure nonsense, classic slapstick, extreme happiness and searing heartbreak; gathered by a wealth of personal experiences throughout his thrilling—sometimes mundane or unusually horrid—free-spirited, rock-'n'-roller-coaster ride around our beloved Planet Earth. Mike Slickster's illustrious quest continues, living now in Act Three of his present incarnation, quite a bit on the cutting edge of profundity and philosophical merriment as seen through his colorful characters, most notably evident in the amusing Thirty Days Across the Big Pond series, all of which can be found at
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